Is Starting a Hobby Reptile Business Right for you?
I have always wanted to start some sort of business based on my love for herpetology and herpetoculture. What type of hobbyist hasn’t wanted to start a business based on the hobby that they enjoy? If you are reading this post, you share my enthusiasm for the reptile hobby and are asking yourself questions such as:
- “I wish I could do something related to reptiles as a business. What can I do for a business?”
- “Is there any way I can support my hobby expenses or make money from breeding reptiles?”
- “Snakes are cool. Is there anyway to have a business that involves snakes?”
- “I like making artwork based on turtles. Can I sell these painting to other reptile keepers?”
Do not feel like you are alone if you are asking these types of questions. In most hobbies, people eventually hit the point where they start asking themselves if their hobby can pay for itself. Hobbyists want to know if what they do for fun has the potential to earn extra income, or even become a possible way for them to quit their day job.
As with any other hobby, herpetology and herpetoculture offers money making opportunities for those who wish to start a business. People that enjoy keeping reptiles as pets have always found opportunities to earn extra income from aspects of the pet reptile industry. These business opportunities commonly include cage construction and sales, equipment and supply sales, reptile artwork and jewelry, reptile community development, reptile feed sales, and pet reptile sales. There are also several “out of the box” type businesses that have been very successful. If you are considering starting a reptile related business as a hobby, you need to answer numerous of questions for yourself before getting started. To help keep you on the right path (and to help me go through the process for my own business), I put together this post as a set of questions and considerations to make before taking the leap into a reptile business.
So, what will your reptile business sell?
When most hobby reptile keepers think of starting a reptile business, the first thought is usually a business that sells captively produced reptiles. While keeping and breeding reptiles is fun, the honest truth is that many people do not have the time or resources to startup a captive reptile breeding business. However, you can start a reptile related business without having to be a “snake breeder”. For example, the following businesses are not professional reptile breeders but run great businesses centered around reptiles:
- Pangea Reptile – This is a combination business that sells captive reptiles, captive reptile supplies, and custom reptile food. I personally order my crested gecko food from this diversified business and they have great service and products. Great example of someone combining multiple potential reptile industry categories to form a business.
- The Skeleton Factory – This is a specialty business that produces exceptional scientific skeleton displays from people’s deceased pet reptiles and amphibians. While I have never been involved with this company, I can’t help but admire their work. Another example of how someone is taking a different route for a reptile related business.
- Midwest Tongs – All snake hooks that I use were purchased from Midwest Tongs. Although their business is focused on snakes, it is focused on the “handling” portion related to both captive keeping and field herping. Great products that I have used for over 10 years.
- South Burnett Snake Catchers – This is a snake removal company that removes snakes from homes/yards/businesses in Queensland, Australia. I have no involvement with them but I do enjoy watching their adventures on Facebook. Great way for someone to enjoy snakes and work on conservation at the same time.
Those businesses are just someone examples of businesses that don’t heavily involve the keeping and breeding of reptiles. The main reason I wanted to share those is to say…If you want to start a reptile business, it doesn’t have to include keeping and breeding reptiles so don’t restrict yourself to that option. Of course, breeding reptiles for sales into the pet industry is also an option for a reptile business and many people do it successfully for a full time business. Since you have so many options to start a business in the reptile industry, you need to have some self reflection to figure out your path to starting a successful reptile business.
12 Questions for you to Ask Yourself When Considering Starting a Hobby Reptile Business
Based on some self reflection, you may still be questioning yourself if you are ready to start a reptile business. To help you solidify your resolve or to confirm that a reptile business isn’t right for you, I have put together 12 questions to help you in making a decision on how to proceed. While the decision to start a business is solely up to you, these questions may help put several things into the proper perspective going forward.
Question 1: What are your top three reasons for starting the reptile business?
You should have at least three reasons why you want to start a hobby reptile business. If one of your answers was not “to make a profit” or some variation, then maybe you should reconsider starting a hobby reptile business. The sole purpose of ANY business is to make a profit and shouldn’t be one of your main reasons. If you are not concerned about making a profit, then you are better off keeping your reptiles solely a hobby. Not desiring a profit does not mean that you cannot register as a business, but it does mean that you are not going to meet the IRS criteria for a business and should handle your business finances and taxes accordingly.
My personal reasons for starting a reptile business are that I enjoy helping people in understanding reptiles, I like to build and setup reptile enclosures, I enjoy the challenge of keeping reptiles in captivity, and field herping and observing wild reptiles is one of my favorite activities. I want to start a reptile business to spend more time on the things that I enjoy about reptiles in both the wild and in captivity.
Question 2: What are the legal requirements for you to start a reptile business?
Legal questions should be asked by every reptile keeper regardless of business status. What are the regulations and laws related to reptiles in your state, county or parish, and city/town/village? Laws and regulations vary from city to city, county to county, and state to state. These laws are very difficult to keep track of sometimes and violating these laws could cause you heartache and financial loss. There have been many cases where keepers have had to stop their hobby activities because of local laws.
Having a familiarity with researching laws can benefit any reptile keeper. Some reptiles may be legal to own in your area but illegal in other locations. One of the easiest ways to find out your county, parish or city’s laws concerning reptiles is to simply call the government body. When you call a government agency, you will most likely need to speak with a clerk of some kind. When you call, ask to speak with someone familiar with ordinances and statutes within the government’s jurisdiction. Most government bodies also have online resources available that allow you to search through the codes and regulations.
Question 3: How long will it take for your business to start making a profit?
One of the leading cause for business failure (regardless of business type) is that the business fails to be profitable before financial capital runs out. If you are expecting to have income from a project after the first year, you will be in trouble if your business doesn’t make a profit until year 3. In situations where you may consider yourself a business, the IRS still has a different viewpoint if you business is failing to make a profit. According to the IRS, your business is only considered a business if it has been profitable for 3 years out of a 5-year period. Your accountant should be able to help you navigate the particular IRS requirements. To help yourself prepare, estimate a realistic time that your business will need to be profitable. If you can’t afford the finances or time required to reach a profitable point in the business, starting a reptile business may not be right for you.
Failure to consider the longer term financial situation for starting a business is especially common for hobbyists that wish to start a captive reptile breeding program. Since most reptiles can take 3 to 5 years before they first start producing offspring, you will need to consider how long it will take to make a profit to estimate the financial expenses you will incur during your non-profitable times. You as a reptile keeper should understand the reality that there are no overnight successes when it involves the captive breeding of reptiles.
Question 4: Are you prepared to devote the time needed to formally start a reptile business?
The act of creating a business requires some time then running a business takes even more time. If you are a small scale operation, you can expect to spend addition 8-16 hours a week on simply managing your business. If you are a larger operation, you can expect a lot more time needed. You might have to take a few days off from your full-time job in order to run necessary errands for the business. Businesses do not run themselves. You will have be prepared to devote more time to keeping the business operating correctly or scale your business to work within your available time.
Question 5: Do you have the money to formally start a reptile business?
Startup costs for businesses can range from a few hundred dollars to over a few thousand dollars. Some cost items you may need include fees for licenses, permits, insurance, lawyer and accountant consultations, website, business cards, and business accounts. You should detail all your potential startup costs as a part of your business planning. Although these costs will most likely be necessary, you can schedule activities to spread them out so you are not paying them all at once.
Question 6: Do you currently keep records of costs related to your reptile collection?
If you are already keeping detailed records of your hobby costs, then you have already made a step toward keeping proper business records. If you do not keep detailed records, then now is the time to start. You will need to begin keeping receipts for all transactions and recording money related information.
Question 7: Are you comfortable and confident selling?
You cannot run a business if you are not comfortable selling your product or service. To sell, you have to have confidence in the products or services you produce. Selling anything is usually more about establishing relationships with customers then the actual act of selling. Are you more likely to buy from someone who randomly asks you to buy from them or from someone who offers advice and assistance? You also need to ask yourself who is your ideal client. What types of person are you interested in selling to? Are you seeking high end customers or the average reptile keeper? You must know your potential customers and feel comfortable asking them to buy from your business.
Question 8: How will you compete with others in the marketplace?
Some segments of the reptile marketplace can be very competitive. What separates you from the rest of those in the marketplace? Who are your direct competitors? As a business owner, you will need to develop a plan to deal with your competitors. Will you be differentiating your business by offering the most affordable product or the highest quality product? Will you try to set yourself apart by offering excellent customer service? You need to define how you intend to make your business special when compared to others in the industry.
Question 9: How will you handle complaints and problems?
No matter how well you run a business, you may still have complaints and have to deal with problems. With any business, I recommend creating a list of “what if’s” and deciding how to handle them in advance. This exercise can help you keep from panicking if something goes wrong and also allows you to address the situation in a more rapid and professional manner. If something gets messed up, you will need to respond in a suitable manner. Reputation is very important in the reptile community.
Question 10: What are three goals for your reptile business?
Any business must have goals to measure their success. You will need to define at least three goals for your business. These goals can be relatively simple, but should give you something to work toward. Example goals would include activities such as attending your first reptile show as a vendor or selling out of all your reptile offspring within 4 months. You can also set specific monetary goals to help you gauge your success.
Question 11: Do you have the support of those around you?
Since having a business will require some additional time and money, support from your family and friends can always be beneficial. If you are going to have to listen to your significant other complain about the time and money you spend on the business, then the whole experience may not be enjoyable. Sit down with other people that matter in your life and discuss your business intentions with them. Understanding what you expect to achieve and what obligations they may expect you to keep can help you maintain the support of those around you during the operation of your new business. If you are going to spend a few extra hours in the evening managing business stuff, let your significant other know ahead of time. Getting these issues worked out beforehand can be a great benefit to you and your business.
Question 12: Who can you talk to for help?
A business mentor can be a great help along the way. Most successful business persons have someone they can contact for advice. These people can be friends, family, or even a reptile breeder you have purchased from in the past. No one knows everything. By determining what resources you have before starting a business, you will immediately know who to contact to get the additional support you need to be successful. These people do not have to be top business owners in the reptile industry. You can also get a lot of help by discussing reptile business issues with your peers.
So, is Starting a Hobby Reptile Business Right for you?
The only person that can answer the question if starting a reptile business is the right option… is you. If you can not answer the simple questions I have listed in this article, you may need to reconsider starting a business at this time and focus on defining what you want from a hobby reptile business. If you can answer those questions easily, then maybe it is time for you to begin your journey in starting a business. Just remember that once you decide to transition to a business, you need to immediately begin treating your hobby like it is a full blown business. You will need to start seriously managing your activities just like any other business operation. You will need to keep records of your income and expenses. You will need to speak to an accountant and lawyer to get a professional’s option on your business. You may want to consider getting a separate bank account. You will have to start making decisions about your business name, what your website will look like, and what type of business entity you will form. Starting a business requires much more than most people realize, but everyone is capable of completing those tasks. I hope this article has been of some help and good luck in your reptile hobby endeavors.